Palin’s “blood libel”: it’s time to say No

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"Sarah Palin's use of the phrase 'blood libel' could scarcely be more incendiary, especially in a religious country like the U.S.," the UK Guardian's religion writer, Stephen Bates, writes. "That it should be used by an avowedly Christian politician about a Jewish one just takes crassness and insensitivity to a new level." What he is referring to is this: Palin's use of the term "blood libel" comes in a context of repeated right-wing anti-Semitic slurs against supposedly liberal Jewish media. Palin used the term in a vicious attack on "journalists and pundits" who criticized her cross-hairs targeting of Jewish Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"Blood libel" is an emotionally laden term that dates back centuries to the anti-Semitic accusation that Jewish people as a whole bear responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ. Over the centuries it has meant accusing Jews of murdering Christian children in order to use their blood to bake Passover matzohs or in other religious rituals. These are a vicious mythology that has been used to justify pogroms and other persecutions of Jews through the centuries and into the present.

Strangely, or perhaps not, right-wing fraud-perpetrator Andrew Breitbart used exactly the same term - "blood libel" - yesterday in a Twitter defense of Palin. And right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds similarly used the term in an op ed published Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal. Read more here.  

Why would Palin and her right-wing extremist colleagues choose to use such an inflammatory term, after all the talk about toning down the rhetoric after the terrible shootings that took place on Saturday in Arizona?

Of course they will claim that they oppose the anti-Semitic notion and that it's her opponents who are guilty. We don't buy it.

The Palin-Beck-Limbaugh-tea-party operation has bandied about Nazi imagery in a coordinated way from the get-go, even while claiming to oppose it. Turning reality on its head, they have brandished swastikas and Hitler images in attacks against a liberal, African American president and his efforts at progressive social reform, swirling these disturbing images into a toxic mix of gun culture, barely masked appeals to violence, organizing target practices as political campaign events, spitting on members of Congress and breaking their office windows, stoking the fires of paranoia with anti-government conspiracy theories, including about currency and the "gold standard" and about enemy aliens infiltrating even as far as the presidency.

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that Palin's statement "shows that she will not retreat from any violence-laden speech." Palin's use of this loaded "bloody" phrase conjures up the anti-Semitic mythology of persecution of Christians and "plays into this evil history," positioning herself - rather than Gabrielle Giffords who in fact is Jewish - as the victim, Butler writes.

In a 2007 book about Germany's Weimar Republic which ended with Hitler's rise to power, historian Eric Weitz writes that the period, in which Germany was "battered by economic crisis and unrelenting political conflict," offers a "warning sign" for us today. With the demise of the German empire after World War I, right-wing elements, "following the stab-in-the-back legend," rushed to blame Jews and socialists for the "unrest, hyperinflation, depression, bankruptcies" and other miseries besetting the country, and portraying "pure" Germans as the victims. Weitz says it shows what can happen when society is divided on how to move forward and "every minor difference becomes a cause of existential political battles, when assassinations and street fights run rampant and minorities become the easy scapegoats of antidemocratic forces."

"It is a warning sign," he writes, "because we all know how it ended: with the Nazi assumption of power on 30 January 1933."

We are not Weimar Germany. We have a strong and deep democratic tradition and culture, and a rich multicultural heritage, filled with struggle against racial, ethnic and religious hatred and division. But we are in a time of profound economic upheaval, and we should take seriously the lessons of pre-Hitler Germany.

Saturday's violence shows the extent to which the Sarah Palins and their big-money backers are playing with fire to advance their reactionary political agenda. The evidence is staring us in the face.

Uncovering what specific factors triggered Jared Loughner's bloody assassination shooting spree in Tucson may be as complex as determining what caused Lee Harvey Oswald to become involved in whatever way in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. But the far-right hate that was being propagated in our country that November of 1963 is a fact. We recall the posters labeling that liberal president as "wanted for treason."

Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch writes in his blog: "Is it really necessary to tie Loughner into the broader body politic to prove what we as Americans should already know instinctively: That when eliminationists are targeting members of Congress with rocks and stray bullets and tar and feathers and a minister is praying for the death of the American president and when a state decides as an entity to profile and harass human beings because they have brown skin or because their religion is different, that things have already gone way, way off the tracks. We should have seen this long before 10 a.m. Mountain time, on the fateful morning of Jan. 8, 2011."

It would be good to see our nation's religious, cultural and community leaders come together to stand up and unequivocally reject the Palin-tea-party movement and its violence-laden "big lie" message. It is time to speak out and defend our democracy.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Monarrez-Maldonado